Too often in the safety profession we become so busy that we can't see the forest from the trees. We concentrate on immediacy and become reactive, seeming to never get ahead. Planning for the future can be a foreign concept.

Stop a minute and think about it. What do most successful businesses have in common? They plan for the future. They have a game plan, a strategy; one that can be modified with changing business and economic conditions. As if they are playing chess, these companies think ahead three moves. Why should our industrial hygiene and safety endeavors be any different?

For progressive companies, industrial hygiene and safety have become an integral business component, ranking right up there with manufacturing, accounting and human resources. Whether you are practicing in a fixed facility or in the consulting field, the concepts for drawing up a successful industrial hygiene program as stated below can be applied.

Why plan?

Planning provides a blueprint for the successful IH program. It defines the ultimate goals and the incremental objectives to meet those goals as well as allowing for interdepartmental communication. You may have a small IH group at your facility, but that doesn't mean allies can't be developed in other departments. By explaining IH goals and objectives, other coworkers can understand what is important and why it is important. A knowledgeable audience makes the IH program easier to promote to management and employees in the long run.

Other reasons to plan include financial responsibility (labor, laboratory and equipment budgets), time management (meeting production schedules and avoiding scheduling conflicts), and for your own peace of mind - knowing where you are heading creates a relaxed and more productive atmosphere.

How to plan

The first thing to do is develop a needs assessment. Review the goals and objectives of the program and identify what has to be accomplished to meet the desired outcome. Assume you are installing a new batch operation in a production facility. The engineering review, product flow diagrams, MSDS, proposed job descriptions and written batch operations are on your desk. You are basically performing a job hazard analysis for the new product.

  • Who is going to perform the operation?
  • What is being used?
  • What are the chemical and physical hazards?
  • When will exposures occur and how long will they last?
  • Can we measure exposures and how often?
  • Can we substitute any potentially less hazardous materials?
  • What are the engineering controls?
  • What kind of additional training would the employees need?

Now, to answer all those questions we will need to assemble all the stakeholders together to provide input. In this example it may just be the engineering and manufacturing departments.

The above example was based solely from the IH profession's viewpoint. If you are a service line manager in a consulting firm and there is a new service line that may be profitable, however, it is a new market for the company with many associated risks. The concepts from our IH example can be expanded to use in evaluating these risks. We basically answered the "who, what, where, how and why" questions.

  • Who will purchase the service?
  • Who will provide the service?
  • What is the service line?
  • What are the business risks?
  • What are the legal and insurance implications?
  • What additional equipment do we need?
  • What additional training does our staff need?
  • What kind of market share and/or profit margin do we anticipate?
  • What marketing needs to be performed or materials need to be developed?
  • What are the accounting or other financial impacts?
  • Where will the service be performed?
  • How will we roll out a program to cover all the above items?
  • How will it be managed?
  • Why do we want to develop this service line?

Assembling the stakeholders and discussing the new service line would make sense at this point. In a large consulting firm the involved departments may be operations, the service line manager, the EHS department, the legal department, risk management, accounting and marketing. In the above example we integrated all of our business units.

The service line manager can now develop a pretty tight business plan that takes into account all the stakeholders' concerns and expertise.

IH outcomes

In both examples, we find that our work as Industrial Hygienists has not ended. We must still fulfill our responsibilities to our coworkers. Assuming that both of our examples get the go-ahead from management, what other items would we need to complete?

These may include Standard Operating Procedures (batch operation directions or sampling SOPs for the new IH service line), formal Job Hazard Analysis, written safety policies and procedures, identification of IH sampling schemes and scheduling, development and implementation of employee training and development of program audits and reviews. There is still a lot of work, but from this analysis a schedule can be developed for what needs to be accomplished.

Home on time

No matter where you practice your profession, a little planning can go a long way. In both of our examples, we developed a course of action, obtained input from the major stakeholders and implemented the plan.

As we gain knowledge and experience, the plan can be modified as necessary. Since we have started the process on a proactive note, we are less likely to be reactive. The spinoff from this approach is its tendency to foster understanding of why and how we are developing, planning and implementing our program. This tends to develop buy-in from other impacted departments and will also increase cooperation. It may take a little longer on the front end of the process, but it will pay off during the year and especially when the unexpected occurs. Everyone is already up-to-speed on the process, the learning curve is shorter and decisions can be made faster in an emergency situation.

A little advanced planning may also get you home on time once in awhile.

SIDEBAR: Four main hazards

The first step in providing a healthy work environment is developing the necessary information to be able to recognize and identify any potential health hazards that are present. After the potential health hazards have been identified, a hazard evaluation can be performed to determine if controls are necessary.

Basic to recognizing potential health hazards in the workplace is knowing environmental factors. The environmental factors with the potential for becoming health hazards in the workplace include:

1) Chemical Hazards: Employee exposures to chemical hazards can occur from inhalation of excessive airborne concentrations of dusts, gases, vapors, mists or fumes. Additionally, some chemicals can be irritating to skin or eyes upon contact, or can be absorbed in toxic amounts through intact skin.

2) Physical hazards: Physical hazards exist in the workplace in the forms of excessive levels of noise, extremely hot or cold temperatures, vibration, microwaves or ionizing radiation.

3) Ergonomic Hazards: Employee exposures can occur from improperly designed tools or work environments. Eye strain from computer monitors and carpel tunnel illnesses due to repetitive motions using a computer mouse are a couple of examples of ergonomic hazards.

4) Biological Hazards: This type of hazard includes insects, molds, fungi and bacteria present in the working environment.

- Mark D. Hansen, CSP, CPE, PE, President, ASSE